Ecuador is the perfect storm when it comes to biodiversity. The high Andes Mountains, it’s tropical location on the equator, and two major ocean currents along the coast create microclimates for a dazzling array of wildlife. Not only is Ecuador home to 25,000 species of plants, 1,600 species of birds (more than half of the 3,000 species found in all of South America), 369 species of mammals, 350 species of reptiles, and 800 species of fish, it is also home to the legendary Galapagos Islands, the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Many of these animals are found nowhere else on Earth. They are unique and precious, both ecologically and scientifically. There is so much we can learn from these creatures and they are disappearing before our eyes.
Why do we volunteer? We want to help. We want to leave the world in a better place than we found it. We want to matter. Sometimes, we want to heal. I’ve explored the many ways volunteering helps teach a person to be a global citizen, and the many ways it enriches the spirit: helping others, seeing your work improve lives, seeing yourself through the eyes of people from vastly different worlds, feeling the connection we all share. But I haven’t explored how we can use volunteering to find ourselves—to put our pain and suffering in perspective, to get outside our own heads, and to process grief.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a biology student. I volunteer with a wildlife conservation organization in my area and spend a lot of time with biologists in the field. A few weeks ago I was chatting with a career biologist—a man who has spent the past thirty years working with endangered species. Somehow the topic of climate change came up, and I was flabbergasted to discover that he doesn’t believe in it, as if it weren’t the overwhelming scientific consensus. It illustrated something I’ve long understood: that a person’s political views (he is a staunch conservative) can dramatically affect his opinions, even when he should know better. None of us wants climate change to be real. We all want to cling to a memory of a time when we weren’t so profoundly afraid for our planet.